To curb age fraud, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has come out with a Voluntary Disclosure Scheme for registered players, like the one that exists for income tax defaulters. The aim of the scheme is to get cricketers to own up to falsification in their date of birth. If they do so before September 15 this year, they won’t face a two-year ban and will be allowed to play in age-group tournaments they are eligible for in the upcoming season.
One of the driving forces behind this offer is former India skipper Rahul Dravid, now the head (cricket) at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. Last season, the BCCI imposed two-year bans on 250 players, the most ever.
Dr Abhijit Salvi, the BCCI’s anti-doping, age verification and medical consultant, says brainstorming sessions started in October and culminated 10 months later with new measures being announced on Monday.
“All along, myself, Rahul Dravid, Saba Karim (GM cricket operations), and the previous management have been thinking of ways to counter age fraud. We had many meetings and decided on bringing out these new guidelines. In future, we may realise that something more needs to be done. We will add those,” Salvi told The Indian Express.
Under the disclosure scheme, if an under-16 cricketer admits age fraud, he or she has to write to the BCCI, attach supporting documents like a birth certificate or school marksheets, and can play in older age-groups following verification.
According to Salvi, the scheme gives budding players a chance to come clean as they would have been too young to realise the consequences of fudging their age.
“A lot of times, we found out that at the under-16 level, the coaches or academy owners get these boys and girls to change their date of birth, make them two or three years younger. At that point of time, these poor kids don’t know, they just follow instructions. Somebody else gets those fake certificates for them. Eventually, we catch them and they get banned. In order to give them a second chance, we have done this,” Salvi said.
Dravid was quoted as saying in a BCCI release that ‘age-fraud is detrimental to the health of the sport’. “Age fraud is a serious matter and is detrimental to the health of the sport. Many youngsters who are supposed to be playing in a particular age group fail to make it owing to age fraud. With the BCCI taking stern actions to curb this, it is only advisable for the players to come forward and abide by the directives issued by the Board.”
BCCI president Sourav Ganguly said: “We are committed to providing a level-playing field across all age groups.”
The growing numbers of players banned for falsifying age was partly because of the launch of a dedicated helpline for tip-offs. Verification of 5,000 age-related documents were done last season by Salvi and his team, with 5 per cent proving to be fake.
What do the rules say
Under Voluntary Disclosure Scheme, players who declare age manipulation will not be suspended and can participate in the appropriate age group level if they disclose their actual date of birth (DOB).
Players who do not disclose age fraud and are found to have done so will be banned for 2 years. They will not be allowed to participate in age group tournaments of BCCI, as well as, age-group tournaments organised by the State association.
Cricketers committing Domicile fraud will be banned for 2 years.
For the BCCI Under-16 age-group tournament, only players who are between 14-16 years old will be permitted to register.
In the Under-19 age group, if a player’s birth is found to be registered more than 2 years after birth then there will be restrictions on the number of years allowed to participate in the BCCI Under-19 tournaments.
The new measures, however, are stringent if a player does not take advantage of the voluntary disclosure scheme before mid-September, and is found to be overage later. “However, if registered players do not disclose the facts and are found to have submitted fake/tampered DOB proof documents by BCCI, they will be banned for two years, and after completion of the two-year suspension, they will not be allowed to participate in age-group tournaments of BCCI, as well as, age-group tournaments organised by the state units,” the new rules state.
Salvi says one of the options considered was imposing a five-year ban but that was deemed too harsh because it could end a cricketer’s career. “The current rule says that if we catch anyone, we ban them for two seasons but then going forward we are saying two years, plus they will not be allowed to play any age-group tournaments. So after those two years, they are only eligible to play senior tournaments. If you are that good to play senior-level cricket at say 17 or 18, then you deserve your place. But then you should leave the age-group tournaments to the kids,” he said.
Other measures to ensure players don’t dupe the system include allowing a cricketer to play only a year of Under-19 cricket if birth certificate is registered after more than two years of birth and allowing only those between 14 and 16 years of age to participate in under-16 tournaments.
The disclosure scheme, however, does not apply to players who have committed domicile fraud – producing fake certificates to show eligibility to play for a state – and such cricketers, if caught, face a two-year ban. Talking about why players who have committed domicile fraud don’t benefit from the Voluntary Disclosure Scheme, Salvi said: “Domicile fraud is mostly committed by people who are in the senior age group and have knowingly done it. So, they shouldn’t be spared. Whereas as in age-group (fraud), we don’t know if they have knowingly done it or someone else has done it for them. So we are giving them a chance,” Salvi said adding that up to the Under-23 level “there is not much domicile fraud”.
The 24×7 helpline to report age-fraud and the voluntary disclosure scheme, Salvi hopes, will encourage more cricketers to come forward and own up. A total of eight people, including a back-end team which handles online registration and three who go through all the documents, form the age-verification division. For up to the age of 16, the TW3 or Tanner-Whitehouse method – wherein an x-ray of the wrist is studied by BCCI’s expert panel of radiologists to determine maturity of the bones – along with verification of documents is carried out. For those above 16, the test is not accurate, and the BCCI has to depend on thorough scrutiny of the documents submitted.
“Cricketers have got a lifeline (because of voluntary disclosure). Until now they were scared that if I reveal it, maybe it is like apne pairon par kulhari marna (shoot oneself in the foot). But now they might come forward and say ‘we will play in the right age-group’. It is too early to say, but we think it will help and that is why we have introduced it.”